This past Sunday, I once again had the pleasure of being the "voice of AdFreak" on Twitter, as I live-tweeted about the Super Bowl ads for Adweek's blog. (I also made occasional contributions to the magazine's Super Bowl liveblog itself, which you can read a transcript of here.)
Amid the frenzy of tweeting about ads in real time, I became hyperaware of how the game and its celebrated commercials kept or lost my attention. When the game grew dull, I was able to cram in more online updates. When a great ad surfaced, I stopped typing and stayed glued to the screen.
I wasn't alone, as you can see in the chart above from analytics service Flurry, which tracks data from more than 160,00 iOS and Android apps. The graph shows how many mobile apps were being opened during every second of the game.
For example, during downtime, smartphone users would fire up the Twitter or Facebook apps to see what friends were saying. When the game got intense (or Madonna took the stage), phones went dark and the TV took hold.
Certain ads obviously drew in viewers. I was one of the millions who couldn't look away from the mysterious movie trailer that ended up being for the board game-inspired "Battleship." Coke's polar bears kept people away from their phones, as well.
There's so much insight to be gleaned from this data, though mostly it just illustrates two points:
• Major television events have become national social experiences, giving us all something specific to talk about. Short of major world events, what else these days brings together so many diverse voices into the same conversation? Whether it's the Grammys or big game, TV's biggest moments are unparallaled in their ability to get people talking in real time.
• Attention comes at the cost of discussion. This creates a tough challenge for the entertainment industry. You want your TV show to be a nationally trending topic on Twitter while it's airing, but you also want viewers paying attention, right? A viewer's natural inclination will be the chat during commercial breaks, which means there's never been more pressure on advertisers to keep eyeballs on the screen and off the phone for just a few more seconds.
Which leads us to another fascinating implication of this data: We might be witnessing a new metric for TV ad performance. Most advertisers simply look at a program's audience size and claim the impressions as their own. But this chart clearly shows that attention waxes and wanes, even if the audience never leaves the room.
Will your favorite brand's next TV ad be enough to keep people engaged, or will audiences find their eyes drifting down to the dreaded second screen?